The Berkeley Against Trump coalition, previously known as the Berkeley J20 coalition, invites all solidarity-minded students and other members of the campus community to protest with us against far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos on Feb. 1. We will gather at 5 p.m at Sproul and show our unwillingness to allow our campus to be used to spread Yiannopoulous’s vile bigotry at this time when the forces of oppression are ascendant nationally. All those thousands who rallied with us on Sproul Plaza against the inauguration of hater-in-chief Donald Trump on Jan. 20 should join us to continue defending solidarity on our campus. The university administration’s refusal to cancel Yiannopoulos’s event is irrelevant — the campus belongs to the students, staff and faculty who run it, and in our numbers we will demonstrate exactly how we will run it. UC Davis shut down an event showcasing Yiannopoulous and pharma rich boy Martin Shkreli — we should all learn from this example.
Right-wingers have derided oppressed students standing up against bigotry as “special snowflakes.” We give no quarter to this slander and remind all potential allies: It was precisely the mass student organizing against racism and imperialism in the 1960s on this campus which led to an administration crackdown on free speech, birthing the Free Speech Movement (FSM). The powers that be have always been hostile to unyielding struggle against oppression, preferring half-measures like Chancellor Dirks’s recent statement, which offers lip service for values of inclusion and diversity.
However, many other well-meaning people are also on the fence about how to respond to Yiannopoulous’s impending presence. They are repulsed by him and the vile racism and misogyny that he spreads, but feel the culture of free speech on our campus should give us pause about shutting him down. We implore all of these people to revisit the actual history of FSM. The years 1963-64 were the height of the nonviolent direct action phase of the civil rights movement, nationally as well as at Berkeley. This was a time when, even in the liberal Bay Area, Black people were shut out of nearly all public positions of employment: clerks, cashiers, bank tellers, etc. The Berkeley chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) led a series of militant demonstrations and sit-ins to win equal rights for Black people. It was because of this that the university administration banned organizations from using Sproul Plaza, and the FSM began. As FSM participant Joel Geier describes:
“This connection to the civil rights movement is necessary to understanding the Free Speech Movement. It wasn’t just about the right of unrestricted free speech. It was about the university response to the political pressures from the capitalist establishment of California, which was trying to crack down and stop the mobilization of campus activists taking on the racist hiring practices of California corporations. It was an attempt to shut down the civil rights movement on campus that was engaging in off-campus activity that was “illegal” by holding sit-ins against the “legal” right of the employers not to hire Blacks.”
It was in this context — one of massive, unpermitted demonstrations against bigotry and repeated arrests — that FSM leader Mario Savio famously implored students who were fed up with the how “odious” things were to put their “bodies upon the gears” of the university “machine” and stop it from proceeding:
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
The Berkeley Against Trump coalition calls on all solidarity-minded members of the campus to fight for this true legacy of FSM. The far-right is getting organized against us — we must get organized against them. The first step is coming out en masse to kick Yiannopoulous and his hateful bile off our campus.
Mukund Rathi writes on behalf the Berkeley Against Trump Coalition, formerly known as the Berkeley J20 Coalition.